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Board Of Education Backs Charter School Replication

Streamlined process will let charters in underserved areas open faster

Some state education officials are hoping that a plan approved by the State Board of Education and sent to a legislative committee for action will speed the process of letting high-performing charter schools replicate their success in underserved regions.

“This is literally an instance of let the market dictate the supply. My personal hope is that we will actually see replication in places where you don’t see an adequate supply of charter schools,” said Martez Hill, executive director of the State Board of Education.

“I have a hope and a desire to see this happen in eastern North Carolina, among other regions, Hill said.

“I would think we’ll probably see a variety of replication models that may just focus on a certain region, or may focus on certain types of students. We’re interested in all types of innovative possibilities,” Hill said.

The State Board of Education approved a report to the General Assembly at its Dec. 4 meeting advocating a fast-track charter school replication process for charter schools that can demonstrate three years of proven academic and financial success.

The process eliminates a year of planning normally imposed on new charter schools, and mandates a decision on approval in no more than 150 days.

The new process, plan, and rules were required by Senate Bill 793, sponsored in the 2014 short session by Sens. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, and Buck Newton, R-Wilson, which made changes to the state charter school laws.

The report now goes to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Education for review.

“I think that’s something that’s crying out for help. People really want to see some changes in the education of their children so it’s certainly something worth taking a look at,” said state Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, a member of the Education Oversight Committee who favors the fast-track process.

“I hope that it will be received positively because the [Charter School] Advisory Board, and the state board, and our Office of Charter Schools worked collaboratively and have come forward with good recommendations,” Hill said. “I think the process is sound, and I look forward to receiving replication applications.”

The first batch of charter schools that could be replicated would be able to open in school year 2016-17.

“I think we’re going to see a high number [of applications]. At least I hope we see a high number,” Hill said.

Dave Mahaley, head of the high school program at Franklin Academy charter school in Raleigh, is taking a wait-and-see approach as the proposal moves forward.

“I’d be interested to see what it turns out at the end of the day. If it’s something that does make it through, what kind of changes or adjustments are made, and how does that impact the attraction of wanting to jump in and say, ‘Now’s a good time for us to expand our program and do another school.’ ”

Franklin Academy has no immediate plans to replicate, although the possibility has been discussed “off and on” over the years, Mahaley said.

“It’s something perhaps that we would look at in the future. We’d just keep the option open,” he said.

“But I think certainly the fast tracking of programs … could be a good thing for the overall options that parents may have,” Mahaley said.

However, he has reservations about how supportive state education officials would be once the plan is in place.

“There are those who have been long-time supporters of charter schools. They like the idea of being able to give organizations that have a proven record options to continue to grow, and expand, and do the good things they’re doing to even larger communities and locations around the state,” Mahaley said.

“But on the other hand, there’s always been resistance in terms of doing something different than the norm — the public schools. So charter schools have always had a little bit of a battle along those lines,” Mahaley said. “Some of the dynamics change a bit with the passing of years, but I think you would find a mixed review if you were polling everyone there at [the Department of Public Instruction].”

Terry Stoops, director of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation, agrees with Mahaley.

“A lot of this will depend on the appetite for the education officials in Raleigh to see existing charter schools expand,” Stoops said.

“Some of those charter schools, of course, have been controversial,” he said.

“Even though Baker Mitchell [owner of the private Roger Bacon Academy charter-school management company] has very high-performing charter schools, there are individuals in Raleigh that don’t want to see him increase the size and scope of his operations, and might be resistant to approving charter school replication for him,” Stoops said. “That would be unfortunate, especially for the students.”

Mitchell is a member of the John Locke Foundation Board of Directors.

Fast-track replication is not a new idea. The John Locke Foundation has been promoting it for years, Stoops said.

“But it’s an idea that in 2015 legislators should take a serious look at making sure that this is a process that allows successful charter schools to replicate,” he said.

He doesn’t expect an initial surge of activity once the policy is operational.

Older charter schools with a proven track record, and those schools that have already had their initial charters renewed would benefit first, Stoops said.

Newer charter schools and those that have not maintained a high level of academic performance over several years are unlikely to receive any serious consideration for replication, he said.

“We do have some charter schools that are doing a fantastic job, but probably need a few more years to be able to establish a track record that gives the [Charter School Advisory Board] enough data to allow them to comfortably make a decision to allow a charter school to replicate,” Stoops said.

Most charter schools probably won’t pursue expansion. Some might want to expand the size of their campus to allow more students to attend, or to have a branch campus within the same county, Stoops said.

Some might seek a second nearby campus to accommodate a high number of incoming students from neighboring counties, and others might establish a smaller campus in neighboring counties to benefit long-distance student commuters.

“This is common sense,” Stoops said. “We should have been doing this years ago.”

Dan Way (@danway_carolina) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.